How Drew Goddard Made Exposition Go Down Smoothly In 'The Martian'

The Martian represents Sir Ridley Scott's grand return to science-fiction and what a return. Unfortunately, the director behind Blade Runner and Alien was not nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards. But that's no matter, as his inspiring, exciting, and funny "comedy" (as the Golden Globes called it) will stand the test of time. Drew Goddard's (The Cabin in the Woods) script features some of the best material the director has worked with in years and while the screenwriter did a tremendous job adapting Andy Weir's novel, but it wasn't always easy for the screenwriter.The Martian is a movie for everyone. Not everyone is into hard science fiction, but Scott, Weir, Goddard, and everyone else involved made a completely accessible human drama and they accomplished that without any huge explosions and frantic pacing while steering clear of getting too nerdy on us.

With Awards season still in full swing, Vulture is currently running a series of features focused on the toughest scenes screenwriters encountered. In their latest post, Drew Goddard explains The Martian scene that took him a while to crack:

There's one scene that stands out as being especially difficult. I essentially called it the "Matt sets up the third act" scene, and it's just a monologue. We had this concept of what the third act is, which is that we're going to launch Matt into space in a tin can. That's it. When we explained that that was going to happen, we needed to explain why, and we needed to explain the velocity involved in what's going to happen, because one of the things that's hard about filmmaking is speed can be difficult. For example, if you look at race cars on tracks, you need to see them blowing past something to understand that they're moving at a high rate. It's perspective. The problem with launching off the surface of a planet is, we really wanted to sell how dangerous all of this was about to be. It was this exposition that I was struggling with, of just Matt Damon talking.

It wasn't until about the tenth draft of it that I hit upon this idea of Matt saying, "I'm being manipulated. I know they are just repeating to me 'fastest man in the history of space travel' over and over because they're trying to trick me into doing it." Frankly, it just made me laugh, but I liked that it actually gave us an arc for this scene. He starts in one place — "I know I'm being manipulated" — and then by the end of it, he falls victim to the manipulation. It was one of those things that makes me like the character. As opposed to exposition, it became a character arc for him to say, "They're right, I do like the way that sounds, let's do it." That gave me a guideline.

You can read the rest of his story at the link above. There is a lot of exposition in The Martian, but it never feels like you're just watching talking heads jabber on and on. Because you're emotionally invested in Mark Watney's survival, you actually want to lean in and listen during all that exposition, to understand how they're going to rescue him. The emotional stakes are always present in the more expository sequences. Also, it certainly helps having a cast of this caliber delivering the exposition.